NOV 16, 2017 5:20 AM PST

New Cancer Drug Approach Avoids Friendly Fire in the Immune System

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

With any cancer, developing treatments is difficult because cancer cells are an abnormal version of healthy cells. Any drug used to kill cancer cells runs the risk of killing healthy cells during the process. In the case of T cell lymphoma, the healthy cells that are at risk of friendly fire are vital cells of the immune system that are needed to defend the body from infection.

Subcutaneous panniculitis-like T-cell lymphoma. Credit: L. Wozniak & K.W. Zielinski

In collaboration with biopharmaceutical company Autolus Ltd, scientists from Cardiff University developed a new approach to treating T cell lymphoma, one that zeroes in on cancerous cells and keeps healthy T cells safe and fully-functioning.

As its name suggests, T cell lymphoma is a cancer the originates in abnormally growing T cells, a population of cells vital to a cell-mediated immune response that specifically targets incoming pathogens. Lymphoma is the most common type of blood cancer, and T cell lymphoma, a rare and usually aggressive cancer, accounts for 15 percent of all non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases in the United States.

"We wouldn't last a week without the essential job our T cells perform by protecting us from infection,” explained Cardiff University’s Andrew Sewell. “The devastating effects of low numbers of just one type of T cell are all too evident in HIV/AIDS.”

The new approach to treating T cell lymphoma is based on the two genes responsibel for creating the T cell receptor, a surface molecule that helps T cells recognize specific pathogens. A T cell is made by either the “C1” gene or the “C2” gene, and because cancer starts with a single cell, a whole tumor is either entirely made up of C1 T cells or of C2 T cells.

So, scientists decided to try and destroy T cells based on whether they were made by the C1 or C2 gene. In theory, they could target C1 T cells to kill C1 cancers while leaving C2 T cells alone, and vice versa. This eliminates the problem faced by scientists in the past looking for T cell lymphoma treatments, where telling the difference between healthy and cancerous T cells was tedious and not always accurate.

“Since T-cells select use of the C1 or C2 gene at random, this remaining half of T-cells are capable of providing immunity to the pathogens we encounter every day,” Sewell explained.

"This study has demonstrated it's possible to kill cancerous T-cells but importantly spare some healthy ones, opening up exciting new treatment possibilities,” said Cancer Research UK’s Dr. Justine Alford. “T cells are a vital part of our immune system and our survival.”

The present study was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Source: Lymphoma Research Foundation, Cardiff University

About the Author
I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
SEP 01, 2022
Cancer
Pre-clinical Study Describes a Strategy to Improve Adoptive Cell Therapy
SEP 01, 2022
Pre-clinical Study Describes a Strategy to Improve Adoptive Cell Therapy
Immune cells, known as T cells (also called T lymphocytes), play a vital role in the anti-tumor immune response.  T ...
SEP 07, 2022
Drug Discovery & Development
An Oral Insulin Pill is Getting Closer
SEP 07, 2022
An Oral Insulin Pill is Getting Closer
Diabetes is a chronic disease that requires constant monitoring. Patients have to check the level of sugar, or glucose i ...
SEP 21, 2022
Immunology
Calorie Reduction Lowers Levels of Aging-Linked Proteins
SEP 21, 2022
Calorie Reduction Lowers Levels of Aging-Linked Proteins
A variety of studies have suggested that diets that restrict or reduce caloric intake can lengthen lifespan. Now, resear ...
SEP 23, 2022
Immunology
Successful Immunotherapy Trial Sends Lupus Into Remission
SEP 23, 2022
Successful Immunotherapy Trial Sends Lupus Into Remission
Immunotherapy is generally known as a treatment for cancer. In CAR T cell therapy, a patient's T cells can be isolat ...
NOV 18, 2022
Immunology
COVID-19 Can Reactivate Latent Viruses
NOV 18, 2022
COVID-19 Can Reactivate Latent Viruses
Viral infections can trigger other dormant, or latent viruses. For example, the herpesviruses HSV and CMV can be reactiv ...
NOV 22, 2022
Microbiology
Flu Killed Mice Eating a Processed Diet, but Spared Those on Grains
NOV 22, 2022
Flu Killed Mice Eating a Processed Diet, but Spared Those on Grains
When researchers have studied infections in animal models, they have typically focused on the pathogen and the host. But ...
Loading Comments...